Markets are changing. In modern parlance they are being disrupted but for our older readers they are suffering discontinuities. For example, retail, probably the most dynamic sector is being changed not only by e-tailers, but also by high street companies such as Aldi and Lidl. Technology is facilitating change in business to business sectors; governments, licencing bodies and regulators all have the potential to cause disruption and often do through legislation and regulations. Companies disrupt markets through innovative marketing, financing and behaviour. The Dell Corporation changed the sales model for personal computers; Toyota broke the build for stock/mass production model in the car industry by the introduction of what we now call Lean and build to order.

Disruption is not all bad. Sure there are risks, but one man’s risk is another’s possibility. So how do you thrive if your market is in turmoil?

Here are some ideas.

See it coming You don’t have to be a fortune teller. Deeply understanding the markets in which you operate, and having strong personal and business relationships with your customers will help you to read the tea leaves, and make pre-emptive business proposals. 

Empowerment and entrepreneurship  If you don’t already have one, create an empowerment framework which will allow your sales people to make fast decisions. Encourage them to be like small business owners and to be creative and innovative

Thought leadership – Translate your superior market knowledge into competitive advantage by setting the agenda and building barriers to entry. For example collaborate with one or more of your key customers to develop answers to problems that a market disruption might bring about. Publish it in market specific journals and promote it in industry forums.

Become a sounding board – You will know if you are really trusted and respected by your customers when they ask about things you shouldn’t understand. Listen to them and find a way to help them through developing partnerships with third parties who do understand your customers’ issues.

Talking of partnerships – Partnering and partnerships are much abused words. They are used to describe resellers, distributors and from the evidence I see on local council vans outsourcers are in partnership with all their customers! However, true partnerships add real value by combining the knowledge and expertise of two organisations to introduce revolutionary products and services. No company can do everything all of the time. Not having a partnering ethos may cause a company to miss the business possibilities that change brings.

Recruitment and development –  If feasible recruit people from the markets you serve. Not only do they provide invaluable knowledge and experience, they can also help pass it on to your own people. When all things are equal, domain knowledge is the differentiator.

Teamwork – From my personal experience the whole company must pull in the same direction when there is a market discontinuity. The competitive “Robber Barons” in their silos protecting their P&Ls and grinding their axes will reduce the chances of making the most of what a disruption might bring. Managing P&Ls and competitiveness are not wrong, but it is the interests of the customers and the company that come first. Senior management must ensure that these interests are embedded.

In December we will be publishing a case study on this topic which I am sure you will want to read and learn from. It will accompany our Christmas edition of the SalesPulse.